Washington, DC–In advance of the release next Monday of President Bush’s budget request for 2007, 32 Senate Democrats sent the following letter to the White House calling on him to make pandemic flu preparedness a top priority. Last year, the Republican Senate passed and the President approved funding for pandemic flu preparedness of approximately half what the White House determined was necessary. Democrats are urging President Bush to adequately fund the program to protect Americans from such a dangerous disease.
The full text of the letter follows below:
February 3, 2006
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are deeply concerned that our nation remains unprepared for the serious and growing threat of an influenza pandemic. Last year, the Republican-controlled Congress passed and you approved $3.8 billion to help protect our nation from a pandemic — less than half the $8 billion passed by the Senate and $3.3 billion less than you determined was necessary for this purpose. As you prepare your fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request for Congress, we hope your budget will make pandemic flu preparedness a top priority and you will work with us to see that Congress provides the resources needed to address this looming crisis.
As you know, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has spread to 15 countries where it has killed 83 of the 152 individuals it has infected. Members of your administration have warned that this virus could mutate to a new strain that will allow for sustained human-to-human transmission and cause the next pandemic. World Health Organization officials have cautioned that with every new human infection of the H5N1 virus, the possibility increases that it could mutate into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans.
The human and economic impact of an influenza pandemic on our nation would be devastating. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a severe flu pandemic could infect 90 million residents and kill almost two million. A Congressional Budget Office report found that under this scenario, thirty percent of the work force would become ill and those who survived would miss three weeks of work. This lost productivity and decrease in consumer spending could cause a $675 billion reduction in the U.S. gross domestic product and move the nation into a recession.
Our nation remains dangerously unprepared to address this looming threat. We are not dedicating enough resources to the global surveillance and preparedness activities that will allow us to prevent, detect, or contain an outbreak of avian flu. If we are unable to contain a pandemic overseas, our strongest defense at home will be an effective vaccine. However, our domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity is so inadequate it could take nearly a year to produce and distribute a vaccine. Effective drugs that can slow the spread of a pandemic until a vaccine is developed are available for less than two percent of our population. Finally, all of these problems are compounded by the fact that our public health infrastructure does not have the capacity to handle a pandemic and the medical community, business and general public remain unprepared for a pandemic. If we do not address the funding shortfall for pandemic preparedness, there will be inadequate resources to fund important protections – including global surveillance and containment, vaccine manufacturing capacity, provider and hospital surge capacity, stockpiling of antivirals and other medications, and preparedness of state and local health departments.
All of these are reasons why the growing threat of a pandemic requires immediate action, why we voted last year to provide $8 billion in emergency funding for pandemic preparedness, and why we believe significant additional resources are needed this year.
In addition, we are concerned about a provision in the FY 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations bill [P.L 109-148] that gives sweeping liability protections for the pharmaceutical industry, even for the consequences of reckless wrongdoing, without funding a compensation program for individuals who are injured as a result of new vaccines or medications. While we support reasonable protection for vaccine makers whose products may cause unforeseen or unpreventable harm, these protections must be narrowly tailored and must be accompanied with protections and compensation for injured patients. As we learned from the failed smallpox vaccination effort, the government cannot expect first responders or members of the public to be vaccinated if they do not have assurances that those injured as a result of vaccines or other medications will be compensated for those injuries. We ask that you reconsider this ill-conceived, hastily crafted liability provision immediately and request funding for a real compensation program.
We hope that you will agree that the serious and growing threat of an influenza pandemic requires swift action and should be made a top priority in your budget. The government’s lack of preparation for this threat is unacceptable. We ask for you to demonstrate your leadership on this issue by requesting the funding needed to address this crisis in your FY 2007 budget request.
Harry Reid, Ron Wyden, Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Daniel Inouye, Patrick Leahy, Barack Obama, Debbie Stabenow, Richard Durbin, Edward Kennedy, Herb Kohl, Joseph Biden, Jack Reed, Joseph Lieberman, Bob Menendez, Ken Salazar, Even Bayh, Christopher Dodd, Barbara Mikulski, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Carl Levin, Daniel Akaka, Charles Schumer, Mark Pryor, Frank Lautenberg, Mark Dayton, Paul Sarbanes, Patty Murray, Jeff Bingaman, Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold,